Category Archives: beekeeping

It Was Meant to Bee After All

I didn’t talk about it on here, but last fall, I lost both my hives. I was pretty upset about it because they had been looking so good. But just one day I noticed that there was less and less activity at the entrances and then slowly, one day there was none. For a long while I didn’t even walk over to that side of the yard or deal with the empty boxes because every time I saw them I just thought, ‘Failure’. Unfortunately I found council with many other local beekeepers. It seems many people lost many hives this fall and winter. I was able to harvest a wee bit of honey, but the rest of the frames I left as a big mess for me to clean up ‘someday’.
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Well ‘someday’ turned out to be Sunday. I had debated all winter whether or not I was going to jump into this endeavour again or not this spring. I didn’t want the possibility of dealing with another failed hive at the end of the season and frankly, I was open to having a break from hot summer hive inspections. But I had already invested so much in all the equipment and I didn’t want to lose what little knowledge I had gained in the last two years. Last Friday, right before we left for a week’s vacation, I laid in bed early in the morning and told Scott, ‘If I want to do bees this spring today is my last day to clean everything up and get ready. Should I really do this?’ Then I checked my email and a local beekeeper emailed that if I wanted bees, I better let her know. I took that as a sign, as I’ve never received one of her emails before. Still, the day got too crazy prepping for Easter and vacation and I let it go. We left for the coast and I tried to make peace with my decision.
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Then yesterday, fresh back from vacation, Scott and the boys were out gardening when they came running in telling me to get my bee gear on, there was a swarm in one of our walnut trees. ‘I guess this is really meant to be this year!’ I thought and quickly made some simple syrup (to entice them) and got geared up and a swarm box ready. We got it all set up under the bees and realized I would need Scott’s help. He’s always taken a step back from my beekeeping shenanegans and let it be ‘my thing’. But as always, when things get sticky, he’s always ready to step in and help me. So we went in to get him changed and get a veil on. When I went back out there they were gone! And I heard a holler from my beekeeping neighbor, Michelle, over the fence saying, ‘They’re over here Kendra!’ We put the kids in front of a movie and ran next door.
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The swarm had collected along the side of her wine barrel and started to go underneath into a mouse hole (a few mice ran out, they wanted nothing to do with that action!). The decided action between the three of us was that I would just go over and scoop up the buzzing bees with my gloved hands and put them in the box. Easier said than done! Approaching the swarm, it felt like I was running into a brick wall of fear. Ever since my experience getting swarmed on the side of the highway last year, my bee fear has increased quite a bit. Before I would calmly do my hive inspections glove-less, now I wear them with a racing heart. I pushed through and using Michelle’s bee brush I did my best to get some in. Scott did his best too despite being stung many times in his hands. (gardening gloves do not pass as bee gloves!) We could do nothing more at that point but let bees to sort things out, would they go into the swarm box on their own or choose the mouse hole? We hopped back over the fence and started scraping and torching frames and boxes. Michelle later saved the bee day, but going out that evening when they were calmer and and scooped the rest into the box.

Monday morning I went and picked them up in my wheelbarrow and moved them into their new home. And just like that, the apiary is back in business. Hours later I went to go check on them and they were happily buzzing around. It makes me feel good to know we have them back with a blooming apple tree right in front of them and many Cotoneaster just about to burst open. It feels like the ol’ homestead is complete again.

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saving the bees : an adrenaline filled tale

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Luckily, since I last wrote, I realized that not all is lost with the bees. After a frantic email out to our group of Sonoma Valley beekeepers, a phone call, a visit and some very wise emails we concluded that my bees got too cold over winter. That what I was looking at was not chalk brood but chilled pupae. The one hive with the queen should be good to go with a little care. The queenless one…well that was a conundrum. My bees were now too old to properly rear a queen (newborn bees are the ones who become nurse bees and take care of the brood). Even if I gave them a queen, there still wouldn’t be any nurse bees to take care of the future eggs. The situation seemed dire.
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Not two days after my queenless discovery I received an email from our group facilitator that she and two other women were going to meet to split a hive. If I came, I could take some frames of brood and nurse bees to combine with my older queenless foragers so that they could raise their own queen. Once a hive detects that a hive is queenless (that only takes an hour) they will take a good looking egg and develop it into a queen. Now this process takes some time, 16 days until she hatches, plus another week or more until she is mated and ready to lay eggs. Since I had to go to the bee store for supplies yesterday I asked if they happened to have any extra queens. They did! This would save the hive about three weeks worth of time. So with my queen in a little cage and a small box of nurse bees to keep her happy we headed home.
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Today I headed up to Glen Ellen to this amazing property (where all of these pictures were taken) to meet these ladies to do a hive split. Bee people, I have found, are really great, interesting people. The kind of people that you enjoy being with. And today was no exception. After a solid two hours of hive work we split the two tall hives to prevent them from swarming. One split went to me, one to the owner, Lisa. Afterwards we were all beat, it was hot today. Working in a hive is intense. You’re usually hot, you lose a ton of water wearing long sleeved shirts and pants, your adrenaline is rushing a bit, and you are completely ‘in the moment’. I tend to loose all sense of time. We regrouped around this magnificent hand built table with snacks and cucumber water and retold what we had learned.
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I left feeling worn out but exuberant. I put the bee box in my van and headed back home. Right away I noticed a few stray bees flying around so I stopped to let them out. Then a few more miles down the road I found a LOT more bees flying around and realized I was going to have a problem on my hands. I stopped at the nearest turn out and brainstormed…the box lid wasn’t fitting on tightly enough. I pulled the box out and put it in the shade of a tree. If I could take off the lid, put my shirt over the top of the box and then put the lid back on, I would be in business. Which is right about when I realized that I had left all my bee gear back at Lisa’s house. I stupidly tried my trick anyway. The moment I took that lid off, I had a box full of angry bees on my hands. I threw my shirt over the box to contain most of them and was immediately swarmed and stung. I walked far away, took a deep breath, got in my car and with one bar left on my cell phone, made an SOS call to Lisa. She not only drove to meet me and brought my veil and gloves, but put the lid on the box for me and wrapped it up tight in a blanket.
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Once I got home I was able to combine the new bees with the old (using the newspaper sprayed with mint simple syrup trick) and placed the queen in with the new bees. I put the lid on tight, walked away and fell into a useless heap on the couch. Oy! I’m not used to all this drama. There are a lot of routine-filled and ordinary days in my life as a mother of 3 little ones. Beekeeping takes me out of my comfort zone down an avenue completely unrelated to mothering and I do so enjoy it!

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bees & flowers :: successes & failures

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It’s that time of year where the flowers are coming inside. Our beautiful new windows (such a treat to have new windows!) are getting opened everyday to enjoy spring breezes. Slowly the line between indoors and outdoors is getting blurred.

It was a welcome side indeed to walk into a house filled with flowers on a day like today, when upon complete inspection of my two hives, I realized both are in a sad state of decline. One is queenless, has wax moths and appears to have sent out a well populated swarm. The other, also in low population, has a queen but appears to have a fair amount of dead, almost mature larvae still in their cell (chalkbrood possibly?). Neither hive looked good. It was supposed to be a good day with only my oldest son at home. We went out to brunch and then were to have a happy, learning filled hive inspection together. We learned, for sure, but having mama walk back into the house with a heavy heart and tears in her eyes was not part of the plan.

I’ve been told that this happens. Colonies die. To not give up. But it is hard not to feel incredibly guilty. What was I thinking in believing I could keep tens of thousands of bees happy when I have such little time to give them? And now I have to find time despite foreseeing a busy weekend. Do I combine them? Do I get a new queen? Do I call it all a loss? Oy!

The good news is that the garden is booming along and I’ve learned a few new tricks that I’m looking forward to sharing with you. In a rare instance, plants that I thought I had killed over the winter are making a strong comeback and the new plants I got this year are growing just great. (Usually I always kill a few new plants.) Maybe I should keep my focus on growing plants and not an apiary.

…at least there are flowers…

 

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The Birds & The Bees

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Just two short weeks ago I was certain without a doubt that I had lost one of my beehives. They underwent a pretty hard period of robbing in late fall. Robbing, for those even newer to beekeeping than myself, is when other bees or in this case, yellow jackets, enter the hive to steal honey and kill the defending bees. Between the robbing and the ants that seemed to be making their home in that battered hive, I feared the worse. There was minimal activity on the monitoring board (a white board at the bottom of the hive you can pull out to view debris that has fallen – a way of seeing how active the bees are and where they are in the hive) and minimal activity at the entrance of the hive.

But with this warm sunny weather we’ve had that hive has come alive with activity. Bees are coming back with mustard, eucalyptus, manzanita, rosemary and all sorts of other pollens and nectars. Seeing that there is hope yet made me feel happy indeed.
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We’ve been disappointed in our egg production the past couple of years, so we’ve decided to bolster our chicken count. Scott went to the wood pile and crafted together a brooding box on Saturday morning and by evening we had six new chicks to keep us entertained. Four Rhode Island Reds and two Gold Sexlinks, both high egg producers.
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We’ve backed away from getting chickens that lay exotic eggs. Our cookoo maran chickens didn’t lay the dark chocolate brown eggs that was advertised, instead laying light brown eggs. And our Americanas? Well, they do lay blue eggs, but they’ve always looked like this below. Not so appetizing.
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Here’s to hoping that come summer we’ll be blessed with ample amounts of honey and eggs.

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Harvesting Calm Amongst our Chaos & Body Care Recipes in the Works

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The days around here have been non-stop the past two weeks. The Littlest got sick, then the Biggest, followed by the Middle one. The Middle one had a birthday, which he was sick for, the next day the Biggest broke his toe at TaeKwonDo practice. After a full afternoon at the Doctors getting x-rays and waiting for hours with a potty-training, non-napping two year old alongside, we were told there is nothing you can do about a broken toe. So we went home. The next morning I took the Middle one back to the Doctor for an eye exam to find he needs glasses. ‘Oh good!’ I said excitedly, ‘We’ll be twins now!’ Eager to pick out some adorable little boy glasses we headed to the kids glasses display where the Littlest had a potty training accident right there on the carpet and then immediately spilled her apple juice that the seemingly well intentioned nurse gave her. What followed was a classic body twisting tantrum of epic proportions. We couldn’t pick out frames fast enough and get out of there!
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Through the chaos, we’ve been able to gather together the past two weekends as a family for harvesting walnuts. It’s a pretty nice few moments, after a whirlwind week, to work together under shady trees finding and hulling walnuts. Walnuts usually lead to picking tomatoes, peppers, melons, cucumbers, squash, one thing leads to the next.
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And of course a bit more honey. These couple frames of honey tastes so much different from the last. It’s strong in flavor and we are in debate about whether we like the taste at all. What have they been feasting on the past couple of weeks?
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Honey & Lavender

(Honey laden beeswax for the girls to clean off and lavender stalks for the bees to perch on for drinking water. All in my new top feeder)

Luckily the days have slowed down back to their normal pace. The toe is almost back to normal, the glasses turned out to be cute as a bug on him and the Littlest one is back to napping. The potty training is going pretty well.

I’ve gotten back to work on some more body care recipes I can’t wait to share with you. I’m hoping to develop five solid recipes into a little booklet with labels to print. Hopefully it will be perfect for Holiday present making. How does that sound? I have a new lip balm recipe that only calls for 3 ingredients and I’m seriously addicted to! It’s really incredible. I’m putting the finishing touches on a face scrub that has my skin feeling like silk and I figured out how to turn my trusty Beeswax Lotion recipe into a body butter that goes on just like, well, butter. And there is a little something for the men in our lives I’m trying to perfect too. I’m excited about all of them. I’ll keep you updated!

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Putting Food Up

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Putting food up is a lot of work. These pears along with a couple more bags sat in the kitchen a week until I summoned the courage to sit and cut them all, lug out the heavier than heck cider press, grind them, press them and then make pear butter from the pressings.
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Meanwhile Scott’s been slowly plugging away at making marinaras with the tomatoes. 5 quarts are in the pantry, only 19 more to make! A few years ago we made it a goal to put 24 quarts up, which would give us a spaghetti dinner every other week or so until the next tomato season. Just thinking about 19 more makes me want to take a nap. It’s so worth it though when you taste it. Home canned marinara is so much more delicious than anything you can buy. We upped our canning ability this year by investing in a pressure canner. Our first pressure canned experiment was salsa.
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The corn was all harvested, but that’s easy to put up. Just cut it off the cob and into ziplocks for the freezer. I think this year our harvest should carry us most of the way through the winter.
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I had to do a little surgery in one of my hives last week. Somehow, somewhere along the line, someone left a one inch gap between frames in the bottom box and the ladies filled that space up with comb. I spent all summer fretting over having to deal with it. At a recent beekeeping get together a wiser beekeeper encouraged me to just get in and take care of business and I did. Not only did the lovely ladies create an easy to pop out full wall of comb between the frames, but it was almost entirely empty of brood. Phew!
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Last weekend my younger son and I went to a bee harvesting event where we helped harvest honey from three different colonies, all in different locations. We started with the honey from the Sonoma Garden Park. See the color above?
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Well, we ended with honey from Glen Ellen, the next town north, just a few miles up the road for those not familiar with the area. Look how much darker it is! It’s a nice group of beekeepers we have here in Sonoma. Such interesting people. It was a good day.

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A Peek at The National Heirloom Expo

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What a great time we had at The Nation Heirloom Expo on Thursday! As their website says, “The National Heirloom Exposition is a not-for-profit event centered around the pure food movement, heirloom vegetables, and anti-GMO activism.”  We really didn’t know what to expect, but we walked into this hall first and were blown away at how much there was to look at and how inspiring it would be.
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It was so hard to not pick one of these apples up and take a bite! We might have to join the California Rare Fruit Growers so we can get access to some of the more rare apples trees.

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This picture doesn’t do this tower justice, this was about a 10 foot tower of winter squash!
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13oo lb pumpkins!
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Mindblowingly beautiful beehives by Gaia’s Bees.
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Must buy some goldenrod for the bees!
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I regret not buying one of these self watering, hand made terracotta seed trays. Anne, the designer and maker said they’d have them for sale on their website soon. I have a feeling they’ll be selling like hotcakes, they are so beautiful!
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This birthday girl, in all her rainbow regalia, caught the eye of the Gettles and she ended up having a little photo session with Sasha with a Baker Creek photographer. Very cute!
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Great music to listen to at lunchtime by Poor Old Shine.
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Other highlights:

: : Running into our neighbor and her aunt

: :  Then running into our uncle and his partner Jane, who runs a farm & CSA in the foothills

: : The amazing vendor hall that I could have spent another hour in had I not had a tired two year old on my hands

: : But I did manage to buy a hand thrown serving bowl and pitcher

: : Great food was served there. We had a delicious BLT and strawberry/rhubarb pie for dessert

: : Talking to Rebecca Burgess and telling her how she inspired me on my naturally dyed fair isle sweater

: : Looking forward to next year when hopefully I can hear some speakers as well!

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